I’ve been suffering from anxiety for a long time, long before I ever considered it anxiety or any sort of disorder- it only took me 22 years to realize that throwing up every time you travelled or got nervous (like on the alter at church- twice) isn’t exactly normal. My family and friends have been tremendously helpful and supportive throughout this process. I’ve gotten words of encouragement and support whenever I needed them. There are, however, certain things that just make me cringe when I hear it and/or exacerbate the anxiety so I made a list so you can help the anxiety-ridden gem in your life without making them inwardly cringe. Enjoy and happy weekend!
- “I worry a lot too.”
This is one of the most common misunderstandings about anxiety. Worry and anxiety are not synonyms. Everyone gets worried. Worry is a natural human emotion. Some worry is good; it can motivate us to make a plan of action, to fix something that needs to be fixed, to help us find solutions. Everyone worries but not everyone gets anxiety. Generalized Anxiety Disorder is exactly that- a disorder. It’s a chemical imbalance; it’s outside the realm of worry. You might worry, but do you ever wake up with heart palpations out of nowhere and not be able to explain them? Do you ever wake up in the middle of the night and worry one of your loved ones with die in a terrible situation that you create entirely in your head? Do you ever spend an hour-long car ride worrying about the fact that you might have left your hair straightener on, even though you know you shut it off or worry that the oven is on, even though you didn’t use it? Do you ever enter a room full of people and feel exhausted and tight-chested at the prospect of what could be awkward conversation? Do you ever have a twitch in your leg and worry that you have some sort of overlooked diagnosis that will lead to paralysis or cancer or death? Worry is one thing. Anxiety is another.
- “Just calm down.”
Oooooh is that what I have to do? Calm down? Thanks for clearing that up!
Everyone with anxiety knows that they need to “calm down”. That isn’t the problem. I think I speak for all people suffering from anxiety when I say if we could, we would. But it’s not that easy for people with anxiety. Generalized anxiety is a disorder, one that prevents people from “just calming down”. In time, anxiety can become well controlled through medications, therapy and other techniques but until then, calming down simply is not an option. And by telling someone with anxiety that they need to just calm down trivializes the worries they have. It makes them feel like there is something wrong with them because they can’t calm down, which pushes them further into the downward spiral of anxiety.
- “You should do yoga/meditation.”
Yes, we all know that yoga and meditation are proven to reduce stress in some people. Truly, we do. Although there are no numbers to prove it, I would guess that every person with anxiety has at some point been recommended to try yoga or meditation. Chances are that the person you are speaking to may have tried it before. Maybe you suggested this because you’ve tried it and it helped for you or you have a friend who tried it and says that it changed her life, but what works for one person doesn’t work for everyone. I’ve found my own ways to calm myself down when I feel the waves of anxiety rolling in and those methods look a lot different than the methods other people have come up with. Each person is different and each person finds peace in his or her own way. While yoga is certainly a helpful way to calm down, it’s not the only way and it doesn’t work for everyone. Instead, try asking if they’ve found anything they can do to calm themselves down and figure out what works for them individually.
- “Take a joke!”
This is possibly the least helpful thing you can say to anyone who has anxiety. The person who says this is trying to get the person to lighten up, get out of their anxiety-ridden mind and just enjoy the moment. But this phrase likely has the opposite effect. People who suffer from anxiety get caught up in their own mind and are also battling their own insecurities and uncertainties. I know that when my anxiety pays me a visit, I am sucked into a world of self-doubt and become even more sensitive to anyone poking fun or offhandedly joking. This situation is even worse in public situations with people you may not know particularly well because you’re trying so hard to appear like it totally doesn’t bother you when in fact, you’re on the verge of tears and having a hard time maintaining normal conversation because your mind is taking you down a terrible path of self-hate and fear. Whether it’s with people you know well or people you don’t, hearing to just “take a joke” makes you feel like you’re somehow failing at controlling your emotional reactions and the thoughts in your head when in reality, anxiety is not something that you can control.
- “Go out and forget about it.”
A lot of people go out and have a few drinks to forget about their worries and troubles. That may work for some people but it’s important to remember that what works for one person may not necessarily work for another. When anxiety strikes, the last thing I want to do is go to a crowded bar. People with anxiety try to process everything so precisely and with so much detail that a crowded place with lights and TVs and multiple conversations and too many people and drinks and that cute guy and the girl who has the cute outfit and the football game and the guy who is trying to talk to you and the conversation behind you is all TOO MUCH. Quite frankly, it’s exhausting and when my anxiety gets particularly bad, all I want to do is curl up in my bed, watch 30 Rock and have a glass of wine, thank you very much.
- “But you have so many good things in your life.”
Though certainly well intentioned, reminding someone with anxiety that they have so much good in their life ultimately makes them feel worse. When someone with anxiety hears that, it trivializes his or her fears and worries. They hear, “I have so much good and I still feel like I’m failing, like I’m not good enough, like my life is bad. I’m not appreciating what I have, I’m a terrible person, I shouldn’t feel this way, blah blah blah.” We know we have good things in our lives. We know that what we’re worrying about may seem trivial and small and ridiculous to worry over. We know that there are a lot of good things in our lives, our families and our friends and our boyfriends and our warm beds. We know there are people suffering worse than us. But that doesn’t make anxiety go away. Anxiety doesn’t happen because people think their lives are bad. Reminding us that we have so much only makes us feel like we are failing even more. Instead of trying to talk someone out of there anxiety, the best thing you can do is offer a compassionate and understanding shoulder to lean on. That is something that every anxiety-sufferer will appreciate.